Dirty Marketing Tricks

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Three weeks ago, I received an email from a local business publication I subscribe to. The subject line read:

“Action Required on Account No. ###”

The body of the email included the following copy (all caps theirs):

“Your print and digital access will expire if you don’t ACT NOW!”

“Don’t let your subscription end! RENEW IMMEDIATELY!”

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Part of the offensive email.

So I opened the spreadsheet that I use to track my subscriptions (yes, there’s a spreadsheet; make all the nerd jokes you like), and learned that, in fact, my subscription was not set to expire for another six months.

Wondering if something had gone wrong with their record-keeping, I called this publication’s customer-service line.  I was informed that my information was correct, and this was simply a promotional email designed to get me to renew my subscription early.

“In that case,” I said, “I need to cancel my subscription immediately.”

The customer service rep asked why.  “Because,” I replied, “I won’t do business with an organization that thinks it’s okay to deceive its customers.”

I’ve been accused of being too much of a purist in matters like these, and I’m okay with that.  You may be thinking, “What’s the big deal?  Magazines run promos like this all the time.”  But that doesn’t make it right.

There are too many of these hucksters – the websites that claim to have “AMAZING SECRETS that will TRIPLE your sales,” the consultants who knowingly sell incomplete solutions, the used-car salesmen of the lowest order.  Every time they do their nefarious work – their dirty marketing tricks – it affects all of us.  It’s no wonder that consumer trust is at an all-time low.

What can we do about it?  I propose the following:

As marketers – Hold your brands to a higher standard.  Remain squarely focused on serving the consumer, on improving his or her life.  Be the guardian of the consumer within your organization.  Know that if you’re in a boardroom where phrases like “well, it’s not illegal” are being uttered, you are already in very dangerous territory.  In short, stay away from dirty marketing tricks.

As consumers – Have a “zero-tolerance policy” for this kind of nonsense.  Immediately take your business elsewhere.  Vote deliberately with your dollars.  And if you’re of a mind, give the offending organization the gift of feedback.  If enough consumers do this, companies will have to get better to survive.

Meanwhile, a simple closing thought:

Can we agree that “deceitful but technically legal” is too low a standard by which to conduct our affairs?

About Matthew Fenton: Matthew helps challenger brands to focus, grow and win.  Since founding his consultancy, Three Deuce Branding, in 1997, he’s helped hundreds of brands to achieve “brand clarity.”  His consulting services and speaking engagements help brands to focus on what matters through positioning, strategy and ideation.  Contact Matthew here.  He calls Chicago home.

Copyright 2014 – Matthew Fenton.  All Rights Reserved.  You may reprint this article with the original, unedited text intact, including the About Matthew Fenton section.